…and 24 follows Casino Royale’s lead

(I apologize in advance for the heteronormativity of this post: the one demographic TV doesn’t seek to analyze is sexual orientation, and so I’ve written the post from a heteronormative standpoint because I’m attempting to analyze the thinking of a heteronormative industry.)

From what I’m hearing and seeing on LiveJournals, Michael Shanks spent a significant amount of time in nothing but boxer shorts in his recent guest appearance on 24 (see the footage on YouTube). First Casino Royale, now this. Now, clearly, not every woman is going to find every man attractive in skivvies – nor do I suppose every naked and semi-naked woman on TV “does it” for every man watching – but as Reb said of Daniel Craig: “I appreciate the effort“. Yeah – ’bout damn time.

It’s not just that the guys aren’t wearing much. It’s also how the camera ogles their bodies, the way it’s been ogling women’s for all these years. This is important: whether you consider it objectification or just visual appreciation, one of the problems with it has always been that men in mainstream American TV and film were immune to this treatment. What was good for the goose wasn’t good for the gander, and that sent a clear message: that men were above being eyecandy, but women were good for little else. Or that the male gaze required vast pandering, but the female gaze should focus on the sock darning and leave the LustyVision to men.

Of course, we still have a long way to go. Britain and other European countries have long been featuring hot young men in the buff or in eyecandy skin scenes, but the US has never picked up the trend for fear of alienating male viewers. This may just be a yet another test that the audience has been set up to “fail”, to prove that pandering to the male gaze is the only way for TV to go, and they can’t help it, oh well.

It’s worth noting one difference between these two projects: in Casino Royale, the nudity did not come from sex scenes (some were supposedly filmed, but they didn’t make the final cut or DVD extras. In 24, the male eye candy was attached to sex scenes – despite the fact that 24 doesn’t do sex, like, ever. This suggests to me that 24‘s main goal was to throw some sex into an aging show, but at least they had the sense to realize they might as well show off the man’s body as well as the woman’s, while they’re at it.

What I think we’re seeing here is an experiment: will men watch a hot sex scene with a mostly-naked woman if the camera also takes its time with the mostly-naked man? Can you bring in women without alienating men? Have they finally felt the eyes of the female gaze boring into their backs and realized it doesn’t have to be men vs. women – that a smart show can attract both and double its audience?

At this point I’ll take a moment to acknowledge I’m not hoping this leads to lots and lots of nudity in every film and show. Honestly, it gets tiresome. Sex scenes – so rote, so formulaic and choreographed to look pretty – get very old. In my ideal world, nudity would not be relied upon as much as it is now for a cheap thrill, and it certainly wouldn’t exclusively feature beautiful people (see my Full Monty article). But it would most definitely include a roughly equal number of men and women.

Comments

  1. S. A. Bonasi says

    “It’s not just that the guys aren’t wearing much. It’s also how the camera ogles their bodies, the way it’s been ogling women’s for all these years.”

    I’ve noticed the same thing with Desmond on Lost. The show has long had buff shirtless often wet men, but there’s a certain way that I’ve seen Desmond filmed that stood out to me.

    In his first appearance in “Man of Science, Man of Faith”, he’s in varying stages of undress, from briefs to naked-in-the-shower. But what struck me in the scene is that you *never see his face*. ‘Course, this was clearly done for plot reasons – we aren’t supposed to know who he is yet – but it had the effect of being the first time I’ve ever seen fanservice with a male charaecter shot the same way fanservice with female characters are shot.

    Then, in “Further Instructions” (and again in “Flashes Before Your Eyes”) Desmond is completely naked for somewhat dubious reasoning. I mean, time travel? Really? It ended up again being something I’d seen almost solely with female character: nudity for the sake of nudity, regardless of logic or appropriateness to the plot or the scene at hand.

    Incidentally, TPTB have [somewhat jokingly] answered “female viewers” when asked what Desmond brings to the show. Hee.

    It’s amazing how seeing a usual sexist trope played out with male characters makes the trope so much more apparent. There’s so much objectification with women that it was long difficult for me to envision what non-objectifying female-based fanservice would look like, simply because there was nothing for me to work from.

    Then I watched Day Break. The final episode involves a police raid, which involves Andrea. She’s not in high heels, and she’s holding a gun. But her arms a bare, and she looks ridiculously hot. No objectification, but still fanservice. I liked that. I’d like to see more of that, with all genders.

  2. scarlett says

    OK, I’ll come and post a proper reply when I’ve stopped drooling over the visual of Michael Shanks semi-naked…

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    Then I watched Day Break. The final episode involves a police raid, which involves Andrea. She’s not in high heels, and she’s holding a gun. But her arms a bare, and she looks ridiculously hot. No objectification, but still fanservice. I liked that. I’d like to see more of that, with all genders.

    I think that’s how Aeryn Sun of Farscape struck a lot of people (certainly me) – so hot with her clothes on and doing her job properly that there was absolutely no need for her to dress skimpy or toss her pretty hair before simpering out her lines.

    That’s the real deal. But it’s not that easy to create. You need deeply appealing actors. You need writers who can work with their strengths. It’s not something where you can hire your cousin’s kid and pay him peanuts and get these results.

    The objectification rituals are a meant as a shortcut to these results. When they don’t work, the script starts lecturing us about how hot so-and-so is, to justify it. And then eventually the show gets canceled and no one ever thinks to question whether the objectification rituals could have been part of the problem, because by definition they think objectification always works.

    Of course, SOME people in the industry question these things. I don’t mean to imply their all insipid morons. Just enough to, unfortunately, keep things stagnant. ;)

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    OK, I’ll come and post a proper reply when I’ve stopped drooling over the visual of Michael Shanks semi-naked…

    Somebody on YouTube edited just HIS scenes into a video – I’ve updated the post to include the link, so knock yourself out. :D

    He may have the most devoted fanbase I’ve seen in my 13 years of online fandom.

  5. Patrick says

    I think that’s how Aeryn Sun of Farscape struck a lot of people (certainly me) – so hot with her clothes on and doing her job properly that there was absolutely no need for her to dress skimpy or toss her pretty hair before simpering out her lines.

    I’ve only watched a few episodes of Farscape so far, but I have to say Aeryn pointing a blaster rifle and yelling commands is much, much sexier than any of the bikini-clad women on, oh say, CSI Miami.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    Patrick and Nick: do you think you’re in the minority, or do you think most guys can appreciate the sexiness of a fully-clothed competent woman? I’m asking because the people who make this stuff are absolutely convinced if they don’t sex up the ladies, young just aren’t going to “get it”.

    I’m thinking of Sam Carter on SG-1 once again – the way Amanda Tapping does the military actions like it’s second nature to her had, I thought, the potential to be quite sexy. Instead, that stuff was pushed to the background while shots of her chest in ever-shrinking t-shirts got the camera love.

  7. scarlett says

    OK having seen it, the images didn’t seem that bad – but then, I’ve seen much worse with women for much less context, and I’m biased towards MS.

    If there IS a general trend towards parading semi-naked and naked men around in the same way that’s been done to women for a while now, I think one of two things will happen. Either enough men in positions to do something will wise up to the fact that they don’t enjoy being objectified any more then women do, and do something about it, or they’ll shut their ears and eyes to all but the complaints of men saying ‘we don’t like see these images and having to compete with idealised bodies’, and nip the trend in the bud without looking at the hypocricy of it.

  8. SunlessNick says

    Patrick and Nick: do you think you’re in the minority, or do you think most guys can appreciate the sexiness of a fully-clothed competent woman? - BetaCandy

    Just about every guy I know could, including some that wouldn’t think it of themselves. The fans of Farscape sure could, since Aeryn is a subject at hand. And all the people who saw Terminator 2 and failed to see Terminator 3 (and interesting that the Chronicles of Sarah Connor seems to have replaced John’s future war against the machines as the next franchise project). Everyone I know of who disliked the film version of Storm did so because they found her insufficiently strong and charismatic.

    So… if we’re a minority, I think it’s one that might be pretty large. I hope so. Well, I hope it’s not a minority, but you know what I mean.

  9. scarlett says

    Nick, you’re not alone – almost everyone I spoke to (about 80% were men) who saw and loved the first two Terminator movies either boycotted or hated the third. When I said ‘that’s because it had two statuesque blondes instead of Sarah Conner’ they tended to nod their heads as if a lightbulb had gone off :p

    I think the majority of men would prefer a strong female over a weak, pointless one, who would understand the (contextual) sexualization of a male. My fear is that such men don’t run the entertainment industry :(

  10. Patrick says

    I didn’t see the third Terminator movie in part because Sarah Conner wasn’t in it, but also because Cameron didn’t write or direct it.

    On the issue of physically strong women, though, I do seem to remember reading that Kristanna Loken put on about 18 pounds of muscle for the part of the “terminatrix.”

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